Monday, January 16, 2006

DEBBIE GROSSHAUSER, a Walking Green Thumb

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (11/9/2005)

Debbie Grosshauser’s a walking green thumb. A tall, slim, fair-skinned attractive woman with three small children, she transformed her front yard from a hole in the ground into a garden sanctuary. With occasional help from her artist husband, visiting relatives, and a rock-hauling day laborer, she developed a beckoning rock garden with a small lawn and a inviting bench.

Beginning with a bleak moonscape akin to a miniature Meteor Crater, she’s been creating her garden gradually, not creatio ex nihilo all at once, but, more dauntingly, slowly out of a contractor’s leftover antimatter. Put simply, she made lemonade out of a lemon.

Her secret is creating by evolution, not by the fiat of a pricey professional landscaper. She said, "You know, you can tell a professionally landscaped garden. It looks like all the other professionally landscaped gardens. They must all follow some kind of geometric formula rather trusting their creativity. God didn’t make geometrical landscapes." Creatively, Debbie didn’t speak and it was so. Rather, she’s been working at her garden piece by piece over several years with the result that her garden reflects her image.

She said, "As I was working away on my rock terraces, a neighbor who moved in about the same time I did came by and told me triumphantly that her garden was just about finished. I thought, ‘poor woman.’ The joy of gardening is in the gardening. Happily, it’s never finished."

Debbie’s intelligent design has evolved as her garden has evolved. In the beginning, when she and her husband moved to Flagstaff from Helena, Montana, she bought some plants at the Arboretum’s plant sale. They were still staying in a motel at the time awaiting the completion of their house. "I just wanted some beauty in that dismal mess the contractor left us." After planting her horticultural treasures, she went down into her front yard pit and found herself envisioning a terraced rock garden.

Ironically, she’s grateful for Flagstaff’s longer growing season compared to Montana’s. When she hears Flagstaff’s horticultural whiners complain about Flagstaff’s short growing season, she rolls her eyes because Helena’s is about a month shorter with ground freezing in October and thawing in June. She said, "I had such a beautiful garden there that I was anxious to make one here. I missed it’s beauty and the pleasure of gardening."

Her colorful garden has evolved as she has moved from annuals to perennials, especially water-wise perennials. She says, "Most people don’t realize the beauty and drama of drought-tolerant plants. Take, for instance, a Russian sage, it’s so bright, easy to grow, and arresting. You can’t miss it. " The myriad of flowering plants cascading down the rock terraces of her front-yard garden puts the truth to her statement.

She doesn’t mind transplanting. She said that good gardeners have to transplant for several reasons. Evolutionary gardening allows for mistakes which fiat gardening doesn’t. First of all, the plant just may not work out. "Like an eraser of a pencil, sometimes we have to admit we made a mistake. We just may find that as our gardens evolve, plants will do better and look better in different places."

Debbie is not only an evolving creator, she also collector of plants. She cruises the local nurseries, looking for new plants. As a collector, she finds the personalities of her friends in her collections, each new plant calling to mind a friend. As she tends to her garden, she is also working amongst friends.

Although her front yard was mass of rocks, she brought in more. Of course, finding rocks in Flagstaff is a cinch, but bringing more rocks into a already rocky yard is a mark of creative genius. It allowed her to develop a sense of sanctuary as she evolved her front yard from a pit into a semi-circle of cascading terraces.

At first, gaining access to her front yard sanctuary was a little rocky, but then on a visit from Texas her father-in-law pitched in and with a little concrete put in a series of rock steps down into her garden.

The one dead end creation in her evolutionary gambit was her Cro-magnon irrigation system which her father-in-law also helped put in, apparently thinking he was irrigating a field of sorghum in Texas. A Rube Goldberg contrivance of above ground hoses with sprinklers and soakers, it needs help every time she waters. Of course, as the plants grew, they blocked the sprinkler’s irrigating circumference and lost water by evaporation. From now on, she plans to irrigate with various deep percolation systems with different systems for different beds depending on the plants’s needs.

In addition to her father-in-law, her mother, Margaret, a veritable weed-picking machine and another walking green thumb, occasionally flies in from Montana to visit Debbie and her family and to help clear out the yard.

As inviting as is her front yard, Debbie wanted to make the path to her backyard also inviting. Her husband, Peter, along with her father-in-law, borrowed a truck and picked up a load of flagstone from an outfit in Ash Fork for a pittance. With the flagstone Peter is gradually making a welcoming path of stairs along the side of house down into the backyard.

A great deal of her creativity as been in identifying the various micro-climates in her yard. Her front yard faces to the southwest and it receives sun all morning long and well into the afternoon. The backyard is lower than the front with the cold sliding down into the back yard. The rock in the terraced rock garden helps warm the soil. Also, the backyard receives less sun as well as being shaded by pine trees. All of these considerations have affected the types of plants she uses in her beds and in her front yard sanctuary garden.

A graduate of the Master Gardener’s course, Debbie’s evolving garden isn’t finished by a long-shot. From her backyard deck, she sees a partially developed safe playground for her three small children and envisions beds where they can grow their own flowers and vegetables.

Beyond that, using compost and kitchen scraps to enrich the soil, she plans to develop new beds to enhance the backyard’s beauty. Also, she has far-reaching plans to develop a vegetable garden and even to raise vegetables amongst the flowers. "Why should we separate vegetables from flowers. The leaves of beets are beautiful and a bed zucchini with their lovely leaves just seems to float in the air. As a matter of fact, one of my plant friends is a zucchini."

As a gardener, rather than a being Debbie is a becoming.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005

No comments: